UPDATE: Oklahoma City wildfire response 9-15-2011 (see more photos on our facebook page)
On Sept. 10, more than 20 people from the Summit and OKC-Chapel Hill congregations combined strength and skills to help recent wildfire victims in northeastern Oklahoma City.
Amid sifting sooty debris and removing blackened trees, the workers joined in a shining moment: a gift presentation. A minivan was donated to a woman whose work vehicle had been consumed in the fires.
“God is at work loving people!” declared church-planter Allen Buck, Summit’s clergy leader.
The number of volunteers doubled in size for this second consecutive Saturday of serving in the affected area. Buck said the group power-washed soot from several homes. Also that day, a prayer service was conducted by him in memory of the many pets lost in the tragedy.
Goal is to continue the response several more Saturdays.---Holly McCray
Amid acute drought, Oklahomans and Texans also are suffering from wildfires. Here is news of Oklahoma City United Methodist groups responding, a Texas bishop grateful for prayers and other support, and best-practices advice from an Oklahoma Conference Volunteers In Mission official.
When Allen Buck was a firefighter, he left the scene once a blaze was extinguished. Now a pastor, he knows about the ministry that begins when the fire crews leave.
And so he went to offer his help in an area scorched last week by wildfires in northeast Oklahoma City/southeast Edmond.
“These people need God’s love after something like that. They feel disconnected and devastated,” Rev. Buck said.
Buck is church planter for the new Summit UMC, which meets at an elementary school in that fire-impacted area. Some of his congregation’s members were among people forced to evacuate their homes as the fires burned.
Their homes were spared, but “some of our neighbors need help,” he said. “There’s a wide disparity of socio-economic groups that were affected.”
After gleaning information from law officers, the Red Cross, and others, the pastor spent time in prayer.
“God shows up and just starts helping,” Buck said.
On Sept. 3, people from Summit and OKC-Chapel Hill UMC joined Buck to help a resident whose property was ravaged by wildfire.
By day’s end, the volunteers had helped remove barbed-wire fencing around some 18 acres so bulldozers could access the property. Some essential work tools had been replaced. About a dozen people helped, Buck said.
“When we arrived to help, upon seeing what was left of her place, I questioned what in the world we could do that would even begin to address the need. She lost not only her home, but (also) her transportation and livelihood. She was so grieving for her pets,” Buck said.
“God used us to share love with her in powerful ways! We cried together. We prayed with her. We went to get her some necessities. We set her up with equipment she needs.
“The Lord provides.”
Buck said the group’s efforts to respond will continue for several Saturdays. Summit volunteers will meet at 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at Oakdale school’s bus barn. Buck said he has trained in disaster response and as a VIM team leader.
Summit worships at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at Oakdale elementary school, at the intersection of Hefner and Sooner Roads. That day, 100 percent of the offering will support disaster response in the area south of Oakdale. (The new congregation will move its services to 10:40 a.m. Sept. 25 at Chisholm elementary school.)
Throughout September, a special offering collected by OKC-Chapel Hill will support people affected by the wildfires and those in need due to the Piedmont tornado.
In Texas, Bishop James Dorff of the San Antonio Area shared this message: “The central Texas fires have been devastating to several of our communities and church families. Bastrop, Cedar Creek, and the Steiner housing development in Austin have been particularly devastated. We are deeply grateful for the prayers and other expressions of support. Our churches and pastors are hard at work providing shelter and support for those left homeless. Our God is present in these communities, and renewal will occur.”
(UMCOR “Wildfires 2011” Advance No. 901670)
VIM Associate Director Richard Norman coordinates Conference disaster response. He emphasized the importance of utilizing best practices for the safety and security of all, for the most effective help, when responding in times of crisis.
“Make sure you know what’s going on in the bigger picture” of a disaster, Rev. Norman said, which unfolds in multiple stages.
He described the continuing Conference response after tornadoes this year. “We have many United Methodists responding and serving on five Long Term Recovery Committees around the state, where we have been invited to assist in the many ongoing needs of hundreds of individuals and families affected by the tornadoes,” he said.
OKVIM has online resources, pamphlets, and more to help both families and churches in disaster preparedness.
Richard Norman, 405-530-2032, RNorman@okumc.org
Lori Foster, 405-530-2070, LFoster@okumc.org
--- Compiled by Holly McCray, 9-10-2011
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